Body Work

bodySeveral months ago a young attorney who I have been seeing for a couple of years came in and, reluctantly, told me that he and his wife had not had sex for the past year.

It took two or three months to get him to consider going for couples counseling.  I found a therapist who specialized in working with couples around sexual issues (this is important because not all couples therapists are really comfortable or competent to help people with sexual problems).

Even though the therapist was very good, after four or five months it was clear that not much progress was being made.

The couples therapist suggested that both of them go and see a massage therapist who specializes in working with couples around sexual issues: particularly focused on touch and establishing intimacy through touch.

Of course he was pretty anxious about this but dutifully went to see the massage therapist. He came back to report that, after two sessions that incorporated some physical techniques and some practice with nonsexual touch, they have already noticed that they are much more comfortable with each other and feel that they are making very good progress.

When I had a back problem I went to see practically every type of practitioner in the universe who works with people with back problems: a chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, an acupuncturist, etc.  The amazing thing to me was that every type of practitioner I went to see was completely convinced that what they did was the one type of treatment that would would be most likely to help my back get better.  This experience made me realize in a very vivid way how people who train and practice to do something tend to have very strong conscious and unconscious biases that the thing that what they know how to do is the most effective approach to treating health problems.

As someone who mostly practices with medication and talk therapy, the story of this couple reminded me of the power of body work in healing.  Although it isn’t something that I do, it is helpful to remember that working directly with the body is sometimes exactly what it takes to solve a health problem.

In addition to work with couples who have had trouble with physical intimacy we’ve seen body work help in a number of other situations –

  1. Yoga has been an incredibly powerful practice for many people with problems with depression.
  2. We often recommend that our patients consider working with a trainer if they are having trouble with depression and weight gain.
  3. We have also seen bodywork be very helpful for people with complicated mixtures of problems with intimacy and past trauma.

The problem tends to be finding really good practitioners (people who are competent, and people who have good boundaries and ethics)… and finding practitioners who know the limits of what they do – what they can help with and what they can’t.

But then that’s the problem with traditional medicine as well.